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How do you Clean Up Gasoline Spills Naturally?

Routine Calibration of an Instrument Used to Collect Air Samples at a Gasoline Spill Site
USGS scientist performing a routine calibration of an instrument used to collect air samples at a gasoline spill site in Galloway Township, New Jersey. The air samples were analyzed for volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Photo credit: USGS.

By letting microorganisms that live underground do the work for you. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control have developed a methodology for cleaning up fuel spill sites naturally. The methodology is explained in a report entitled Methodology for Applying Monitored Natural Attenuation to Petroleum Hydrocarbon-Contaminated Ground-Water Systems with Examples from South Carolina. Natural attenuation is the combination of the degradation, adsorption, and dilution of contaminants that can occur naturally in the subsurface given the right conditions. Highlights of the report are:

  • A diskette with a computer natural-attenuation screening tool is included with the report. The interactive tool allows users to input site data and the tool then estimates how the site will respond to the contamination. When used in conjunction with other criteria the screening tool can help environmental professionals make informed decisions about the viability of monitored natural attenuation as a remediation strategy.
  • The methodology also covers the natural attenuation of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), an additive to oxygenated gasoline. MTBE does not degrade as well as other components in gasoline and has been problematic at many spill sites.
  • Two step-by-step examples of the application of the methodology at gasoline stations with leaking underground storage tanks in Laurens and Charleston, South Carolina, are presented in the report. Source area and plume delineation, data-collection methods, site characterization, and biodegradation assessment methods are covered in the examples.

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